past event
Employment and Jobs

Fresh Pathways: Strategies to Improve Job Quality and Equity in Food Retail

About this event

For most of us, the holiday season brings to mind favorite food traditions, from stuffed turkeys to applesauce-laden latkes. Shoppers may make sure that their poultry is free range or their apples organic, but when we head to the supermarket to pick out groceries for holiday meals, how often do we consider the frontline retail workers who shape our shopping experience?

Food retailers play an important role in communities, serving as major employers and anchor institutions. But local chains are facing challenges from market consolidation, new competitors, and new technologies that threaten to alter business operations and replace workers. Some stores are finding ways to differentiate and improve business performance by investing in workers – which helps them create exceptional customer service and cater to local communities. Research by the National Grocers Association, the trade association for independent supermarkets,   indicates that more than 80 percent of consumers still prefer their local store to an online alternative, and they value local, quality items and friendly staff.

This event explores how grocers can succeed – and can advance economic and racial equity – by investing in workers. Bringing together food access advocates, food retail leaders, and workforce development experts, we discuss what consumers, business owners, and policymakers can do to encourage good working conditions for the people behind our groceries.



Employment and Jobs
Good Food Requires Good Jobs
December 11, 2018 • Ben Berliner



Employment and Jobs
Background Information: “Fresh Pathways: Strategies to Improve Job Quality and Equity in Food Retail”
November 27, 2018 • Economic Opportunities Program


Featured speakers

Congressman Dwight Evans
US Representative for Pennsylvania’s Second District 

Congressman Dwight Evans represents Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is currently serving his first-term after being elected in a special election in November 2016. For 36 years, Congressman Evans served as a state representative in the PA House of Representatives. In the state legislature he earned a reputation as a pragmatic leader who knows how to put public policy above politics and make ideas matter. He made history in 1990 when he became the first African-American Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, a position he held for two decades.

Throughout his public service career, Congressman Evans has worked tirelessly to expand and broaden access to economic and educational opportunities for all Philadelphians. He currently serves on the Agriculture and Small Business Committees. He is a Co-Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Development and Wealth Creation Task Force. Congressman Evans represents Northwest, West, North, parts of South and Center City Philadelphia, and the western suburbs of Narberth and Lower Merion Township.

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot
CEO, Feeding America

Louisiana native, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot is CEO of Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meals programs that provide food and improve food security for people facing hunger.

Previously, Claire served 13 years on Walmart’s leadership team, most recently as executive vice president and global treasurer. She was partner-in-charge of the Baton Rouge office and tax practice leader for Adams and Reese LLP, dispute resolution practice group leader for the southwest region at PwC, and an assistant secretary for the Office of Legal Affairs for the State of Louisiana.

Claire has served on numerous boards including the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, the board of directors and audit committee for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the board of trustees and finance and audit committee for the National Urban League and the National Association of Black Accountants.

She holds a master of laws in taxation from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

Scott Emerick

Scott Emerick
Executive Director, YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School

Scott Emerick is the Executive Director of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. He oversees YouthBuild Philly’s programming, operations, fundraising, and relationship and capacity building.

Before coming to YouthBuild Philly in 2017 Scott served as the Senior Vice President for Education, Career, and Service Pathways at YouthBuild USA. In this role he oversaw a portfolio of education program initiatives related to improving postsecondary access and success; implementing quality secondary school programming at community based organizations, charter schools, and alternative high schools; increasing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) teaching and career development capacity; and helping educators and schools respond to learning differences and learner variability.

Previously, Scott has provided technical assistance for rural and urban school districts on a range of issues related to teaching quality and teacher retention. He also has professional experience as an educator, as an advocate for improved teaching and learning conditions, and as a management consultant for corporate and private foundation clients investing in education.

Scott has a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Yael Lehmann

Yael Lehmann
President & CEO, The Food Trust

Yael Lehmann serves as President & CEO of The Food Trust, which strives to make healthy food available to all. She is a frequent speaker on food access issues nationally, having appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS NewsHour,, CNN, Good Morning America and many more. Yael was named “One of the Smartest People in Philadelphia” by Philadelphia Magazine and has received several leadership awards, including the Urban Leadership Award from the Penn Institute for Urban Research. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Yael received additional executive education in nonprofit management at Harvard Business School. She is also a Fellow of the third class of the Health Innovators Fellowship and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.

Timbo Sailu

Sailu Timbo
Director of Diversity, Hy-vee

Sailu is the director of diversity at Hy-vee. His Hy-Vee career began in 1998 in Waterloo and he continued to work for Hy-Vee while attending the University of Iowa. After graduation, Sailu decided to take the store director career path. Along the journey he worked at 11 different stores and was the store director at four of them. In late 2017, Sailu accepted the position of director, diversity where his main focuses are recruiting, training and education to strengthen our inclusive culture. He has a degree in African-American world studies from the University of Iowa along with his entrepreneurial certificate. Sailu and his wife Kaitlyn reside in Waukee, Iowa with their two daughters Lyla and Lena.



Eric Kessler

Eric Kessler
Founder, Principal, and Senior Managing Director, Arabella Advisors

Eric is the founder and senior managing director of Arabella Advisors and leads Arabella’s Good Food practice, which supports philanthropists and impact investors who are pursuing solutions to one of the great challenges of our time: transforming our food system to make delicious, nutritious, sustainably produced food accessible for all.

Eric chairs the committee at the James Beard Foundation that oversees efforts to engage the culinary community in advocacy on food policy, and he created the foundation’s Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. Eric also co-founded the Chef Action Network and has a personal private equity portfolio invested in businesses at the forefront of improving our food system. And, he proudly serves as an appointed member of Washington, DC’s Food Policy Council. In addition to his work at Arabella, Eric founded and serves as chairman of the New Venture Fund, a nonprofit that incubates new social sector innovations, and co-founded the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.



When we head to the supermarket to pick out groceries for holiday meals, how often do we consider the frontline retail workers who shape our shopping experience?

Grocers can succeed – and can advance economic and racial equity – by investing in workers. Hear what we can do to encourage good working conditions for the people behind our groceries.

Faced with threats from consolidation, competition, and technology, some stores are finding ways to differentiate and improve business performance by investing in workers.


Join the conversation

Join the conversation on Twitter by following @AspenWorkforce and tweeting with the hashtag #talkgoodjobs.


Learn more

This event is part of the Working in America series, an ongoing discussion series hosted by the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program that highlights an array of critical issues affecting low- and moderate-income workers in the United States and ideas for improving and expanding economic opportunities for working people. For more information, visit

Learn how the Economic Opportunities Program is helping low- and moderate-income Americans connect to and thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, and other announcements.

Event information
Tue Nov 27, 2018
12:00pm - 1:30pm EDT
The Aspen Institute
2300 N Street NW, Suite 700
Washington DC